Christ is Risen! Alleluia! I can’t stop saying that this morning! This morning’s sermon is of course focused on the empty tomb of Jesus and how 4 people encounter the Risen Christ: Mary Magdalene, John the Beloved Disciple, Peter and James the brother of Jesus.
Easter Sunday – 01/04/18
Isaiah 25:6-9, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen
I recently heard about a Curate who was asked to preach on his first Easter Sunday in the Parish. He got into the pulpit, announced that ‘Jesus is Risen. There is nothing more to say.’ And promptly sat back down. While tempting as that may seem – I do have more to say than that.
Jesus is Risen. That is the message of today.
But for Jesus to rise we have to endure the pain of Good Friday, the longing of Easter Saturday to finally get to the joy of Easter Sunday. I know this – and you probably do too. I have talked to a few people this week who would prefer to skip over Good Friday and its focus on Jesus’ death and death more widely. But this doesn’t make it easier!
But first we have to face to the tomb. This morning we will look at the life changing encounters of 4 people with the Risen Jesus. If you have heard this story a thousand times – I urge you to approach the tomb with fresh eyes and ears this morning.
If we believe that on the cross of Good Friday Jesus took on all our sin, shame, fear, anxiety, doubt, loneliness, grief, disappointment – everything that is wrong, and it died with him – then what does the empty tomb of Easter Sunday look like for us?
In the other Gospel accounts there are a variety of Marys and other women at the tomb that first day; but Mary Magdalene is named in all of them. Mary had gotten to know Jesus and the disciples – as she has been with them. Mary Magdalene was also at the cross and on the first Easter morning she is at the tomb.
Mary goes to the tomb when it was still dark. Darkness in John’s Gospel was his way of indicating confusion, misunderstanding and unbelief. Mary has seen all that has happened in the last few days; yet she doesn’t understand it and she is emotionally overwhelmed.
So overwhelmed that she doesn’t get all the way to the tomb the first time. When she saw that the tomb was open her automatic assumption was that Jesus’ body had been stolen. Then she runs to get Peter and John. Mary is fragile – her grief must have been immense. Her emotional fragility keeps her back.
Then we have John, the disciple whom Jesus loved – also the disciple that wrote this account! Tells us twice that he got to the tomb before Peter. But John stops short too – he hesitates. John does get further than Mary – he at least looks in the tomb even though he doesn’t go in.
John’s struggle is deep disappointment. John was loyal, faithful and obedient to the end – only male disciple left at the foot of the cross. All that loyalty, all that faithful service – all for nothing. Maybe John couldn’t face one more disappointment. Maybe John got as far as he could – but not one more step.
Maybe like John you keep praying, serving, doing the stuff but maybe there are not as many victories as you would like. Not willing to risk any more disappointment with life, with people.
In keeping with his personality – Peter runs right into the tomb. Got there second but the first one in. Peter goes further than Mary and John. Peter is spurred on by guilt and shame. Peter – on his run – is hoping that it is all true – he needs one more chance, needs to be redeemed and start again.
Peter loved Jesus – but when it really really mattered Peter failed Jesus in his denial. We all have had Peter moments. Guilt and shame is exhausting to carry around.
You might not have been expecting him! This James is the half-brother of Jesus; the first born of Joseph and Mary. He is not listed in John’s Gospel but Paul includes him as one whom Jesus appeared to.
Jesus appeared to those people who really needed to see Him the most. Mary was emotionally wrecked, John was disappointed; Peter had denied Jesus.
Why James? In the recent Bible Study on the Book of James that some of us participated in and this question was addressed. Jesus’ biological family do not come across particularly well in the Gospels – they don’t believe Him, they are embarrassed by Him; they try to stop Him from doing what he was sent to do.
Anyone with complicated family dynamics will understand this!
James is an unbeliever – a mocking, scorning unbelieving brother of Jesus. Imagine what it might have been like growing up with Jesus? James didn’t get it – despite having grown up with Jesus, seeing first-hand what he was doing. He missed it completely.
So Mary comes to the tomb emotionally fragile and not understanding; John arrives with deep disappointment and Peter gets there spurred on by guilt and shame looking for a fresh start. James – we are not sure when James encounters his Risen brother Jesus. There is no record in the Bible – I think this means that this meeting was private, personal.
Then they all encounter the Risen Jesus. They all go away from their encounters changed, believing. This is how we should come away from encountering the Risen Jesus.
Let’s look at how they went away…
Mary goes back to the tomb a second time after she gets Peter and John. She is still weeping; still not understanding. She finally looks in the tomb. So disturbed is she that the 2 angels don’t even seem to phase her. Everyone else that encounters angels in the NT react with fear! Even Mary and Joseph. Not Mary Magdalene.
Mary is so distressed that she doesn’t even recognise Jesus when he appears to her – He is the one she is looking for! Until He says her name – Mary! Then it all clicks. She heard the voice of the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, who knows and calls them by name.
Mary has not been abandoned. Jesus is alive. But she still doesn’t fully understand because she is looking for the body and calls Jesus ‘rabbouni’ – teacher. Jesus is more than that. So he sends her away with the gift of new sight – being able to see the old with the new. Jesus then sends her back to the disciples to explain to them what has happened.
Jesus is more than we think he is. I think sometimes we need a fresh look at Jesus. We can reduce him down to fit our understanding; we can begin to believe in a Jesus of our own making – who likes and hates the same things that we do.
John enters the tomb after Peter – but he was the first one there – don’t forget. John was the first one to see the burial linen and the first one to believe.
John’s encounter with the Risen Jesus is to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, believe that a new creation had begun and believe that the world had turned a corner. The placement of the grave clothes for John was all the proof he needed. Why is this important?
If you remember from the story of the raising of Lazarus, he needed someone to untie him; a bit like a mummy and needs to be unbound. Lazarus comes back into a world and would die again. When Jesus came out of the tomb – his strips of linen remain on the bench where he was laid as though his body passed through.
Jesus has gone on through death into a new world, a new creation, a new beyond where death had been defeated and life in fullness could begin at last. This meant that John could leave his disappointment behind – all that he had done – all the loyalty, faithfulness – was all for something, someone.
While Peter’s ‘big’ encounter with the Risen Jesus happens on the beach a little while on from today – Peter’s restoration, redemption starts today. He needed the tomb to be empty – for Jesus to have been raised as he said he would be.
Peter comes away from the tomb and it is a new day, a fresh start for him. He could leave his guilt and shame behind.
Then he meets Jesus, his brother in those first few days or weeks after the resurrection. James came to realise who Jesus was. Maybe he felt like a fraud, ashamed he didn’t get it sooner. Missed what was in front of his face for all those years. We like James can miss it too – what has been in front of us all along. We get overly familiar or under-impressed or don’t think it applied to us.
Jesus shows us that the power of the resurrection trumps the power of the past if we’re willing to let it. (Beth Moore). In his meeting with Jesus, James is freed from his past.
So Mary gets to the tomb overwhelmed by grief and emotion, looking for the dead body. She encounters Jesus – goes away knowing that she has not been abandoned and with a new understanding of who Jesus is that she now needs to tell the others about. Jesus is more than enough!
John came disappointed and let down and goes away believing in the Resurrection and who Jesus is. Everything that he had done had meant something, been worth it.
Peter came in burdened with shame and guilt and goes away with a fresh start. In the Acts reading today – we see what Peter went on and did with his fresh start. He told people about Jesus with power and purpose and persuasion. He did it for the rest of his life and was eventually crucified for it – on a cross.
James meets is brother and is freed from the past. His life is on a new course – James remains in Jerusalem, becomes the Bishop and leads the new church there. James would go on to have a huge influence on the church.
The empty tomb proved once and for all that death has been defeated – there is hope beyond the grave. There is Risen life with Jesus for us all.
Whatever condition you find yourself in at the tomb this morning – an encounter with Jesus can change you, heal you, restore, redeem and release you. This is what today is about.